As I look back on over 50 studio shoots in the past year, I’d like to share with you 6 keys that need to come together to create my best images.
1. PHYSICAL BEAUTY:
Ideally, the guy is sexy in some way and/or has some interesting physical attributes. While everyone is not a super built drop dead gorgeous model, many guys have physical features that are appealing and attractive (for all ages and body types). Time at the gym, natural classic beauty, youthful appearance, good rest before the shoot and overall care of the model’s body can all help here.
The photographer’s role includes scouting well (identifying models) and understanding what features to emphasize and what not to focus on. Through lighting and posing/angles, the photographer can help minimize less desirable physical features and emphasize the strongest features.
2. ATTITUDE & PASSION:
Does the model convey something (an attitude or look) that the camera can capture? This could be a passion that is demonstrated (eg. dance) or a way that the model carries themselves that makes their look interesting - could be cocky, humorous, coy, or any number of other attitudes.
A positive attitude is also part of the trick here. Not an attitude that conveys the shoot is all about them, rather, an attitude toward working together with the photographer to collaborate and have fun in the process. When models are engaged in their passion, I often get some of my best shots. I always ask the model what kind of music they like and whenever they have a preference, we listen to that. This helps get them in their zone where they’re most at ease and creative. One guy is posing to country music while another guy is gyrating to dance or rap and each resulted in stronger images I believe.
3. PROPS & ACCESSORIES:
Like when you’re invited to a party and the host says you’re welcome to bring something, you can help make the party more successful or you can show up empty handed and see what the host provides. In this case, I am always excited to see what props & outfits the model brings to the shoot. Props almost always help me capture a more interesting image. This is partly because the prop adds visual interest, but it is also due to the prop’s impact on the model. If the prop is something they enjoy (e.g. related to their passion) OR it allows them to be more comfortable in the shot, it adds to the impact of the image. It also can help create a more unique image (e.g. naked man holding a sword or a kick boxer using a wrap on his hands).
4. POSING & ANGLES:
The model’s awareness of his body and how he moves can help create interesting poses. Looking at how the body forms shapes, negative space, lines and positioning of the arms, legs, and head helps create interesting perspectives. On the other hand, a stiff model that is not body aware, can often end up in awkward poses that do not enhance their look or make them look bad.
Some models have spent time practicing movement in front of a mirror or camera and/or have studied images for ideas. Others come to the shoot as if it is a school portrait sitting and they want to be 100% directed. The best is a coordinated effort between model AND photographer working together and trying new poses and seeing what captures best. Likewise, the photographer should seek new angles to shoot from and change how the subject is framed in the image.
5. TEASE - A LITTLE SKIN:
While I have shot the full spectrum from fashion, suggestive nudes, full nudes, and erotic, the most interesting images overall are the ones that tease the viewer a bit. While we can of course create a great image fully dressed and likewise many guys enjoy a full on erotic shot, the images where the model is nude but you can’t see everything in the image are the most exciting to view in my opinion. While sometimes we simply have the model hold their hand over their package, we can often do better than that. Simple props are sometimes used effectively, although I don’t always like just holding prop of the moment in front.
I prefer a natural look where the prop just happens to cover things OR the angle of the model and/or camera create the discreet image. One model recently told me he felt that an underwear shot was more revealing than a fully nude suggestive pose. I have also found that underwear in some shots can be distracting, where as a nude view that still provides limited viewing is much more naturally appearing. Even if a model is fully clothed, unbuttoning a shirt a bit or the top button of the jeans can offer a hint of a tease that the viewer will appreciate.
Likewise a full frontal view of the model where the face is not fully revealed can also be a tease (who is this mystery man?). Ideally the head is not just cropped off, rather I look for interesting methods such as shadow, angles, masks to hide identity when desired by the model or the pose.
6. LIGHTING & TEXTURES:
I enjoy using studio lights to create a mood and shadows, and draw the viewer’s eyes toward select parts of the image. Lighting can also bring out textures such as fabrics, body hairs, goosebumps, fog, and water/sweat. A well lit shot helps create a more visually stunning image and sets the photograph apart from a majority of amateur shots. An experienced and aware model is aware of the positioning of the studio lights and he helps connect his body with the light.
Color gels on the lights can also enhance the image, but can backfire and make the guy look strange - like a bad sunburn or blue. Interesting backgrounds are also part of the addition of textures to the images and can certainly add variety to a portfolio of images.
So, that's the top 6 keys to creating great male portraits. Overall, great images happen when the photographer AND the model work together in a collaborative, creative, and fun process. For me, creating great images takes some trial and error and working with a model who is open minded and free flowing, helps greatly. When models don’t expect the photographer to do everything, rather, they come to the shoot as an active partner in creating great results, typically we end up with the best shots. A little preparation by both parties often delivers great results.
Additionally, strong attention to detail by both parties is critical in noticing something that may make or break an image. Some things can be fixed in Photoshop after the shoot (e.g. a stray hair), but others need to be captured a certain way to maximize results (e.g. positioning of the arms or legs).
Since we’re shooting digital and the cost to shoot another frame is nothing, it always makes sense to try different poses, lighting, angles, backgrounds, etc. and see what looks great. Sometimes, it is only after I view the images on my computer and do some basic editing that I see how an image really stands out.
You never know for sure in advance where your next great image will come from!